Whether you’re daunted by the rows of golden bottles on back shelves of bars across the city, or you’ve got a growing single-malt collection at home, the opportunity to spend a night with your dad, drinking the world’s best whisky in the company of a Scottish master is not one to pass up.
It might be the allure of stacked shelves at the Whisky and Alement, or maybe what’s poured in Don Draper’s office. Wherever our curiosity comes from, there’s no question there has been a surge of interest in whisky. But how do you begin to approach a spirit that’s been evolving for centuries?
“Well, at the end of the day, what we’re doing is tasting alcohol that’s flavoured with different trees.”
This is not an answer you’d expect to hear from one of the most renowned whisky experts in the country. But James Buntin is no ordinary whisky expert. Buntin has spent his life around whisky. Born in Edinburgh, he grew up a stone’s throw from some of the most famous distilleries in Scotland. He’s worked for 15 different whisky companies. Today he lives in Sydney, where he is the whisky ambassador for Glenfiddich, the most awarded single malt in the world. He has taught thousands of people how to appreciate the finer points of single malt, and for Father’s Day, you and your dad have been invited to taste a few whiskies with James.
But back to those trees. “Basically, every whisky from a different cask, is different,” Buntin says. “Different oaks add different flavours and colours to the whisky. Sixty or 70 per cent of the flavour of a whisky comes from the oak.”
For the Glenfiddich Masterclass, Buntin will take you through the entire range of Glenfiddich’s single-malt scotch whiskies, starting with the most-awarded single malt in the world.
The Glenfiddich 12 year old is a blend of whisky aged in European oak and American oak casks, which is then “married” after aging for a further three months. After the 12, the tasting will move on to the 14-year-old rich oak, the first whisky in the world to be finished in brand new European oak casks, which impart a more intense flavour than casks which have already been used to mature port or sherry. The tasting will move on to the 15 year old, the 18 year old, the 21 year old, and the night will end with a 26-year-old whisky which has not been released in the market.
“The night will take people through the history of whisky, what whisky’s about and give them a taste of why people have such deep passion for it,” says Glenfiddich’s Mark Little.
“My father had a massive appreciation for whisky,” says Buntin. “He had a lot of connections in the whisky industry so often the bottles in my father’s cabinet had no labels. So for me, drinking whisky when I was younger was about the flavour. There was no other information on the bottles, so I concentrated on the taste, working out what tasted similar to others. As I found out more about them, I developed an appreciation for whiskies from different parts of Scotland. My father passed away many years ago, but I like to think every time I have a whisky he’s having one with me.”